‘Tis the Season already for some. Teri Ott gives us a look into her Christmas preparations.
Christmas comes early for a college chaplain. This year’s service is on December 2nd before the students take final exams and leave for winter break. So there is no Advent season of waiting or preparation for this preacher. I’ve been listening to Christmas music for a month now trying to get myself in the mood.
When I begin this early Christmas journey, familiar scripture text in hand, I have no idea where I am being led in my sermon writing process. I have to write my way in, following the thread of inspiration, and carefully guard my spirit so I don’t get distracted.
This is terribly difficult because I have to forget about how badly I want this sermon to go well and how badly I want to offer my community something beautiful. I have to set aside my desires as well as my fears. I have to stop picturing myself preaching in front of our new President and the Dean and all those scary faculty types and all those college students who are so good at looking so bored. I have to meditate a lot in order to free myself from these distractions, and I have to pray and attend to my soul and… I drink a little.
This sermon-writing journey is tumultuous and there are times when I doubt if I will ever find the message, the discovery, the wisdom I am supposed to share. It’s hard to trust that there is anything waiting for me at all. Which often leads me to consider quitting. It’d be a relief to give the whole thing up. Inevitably, while I am in the middle of working on a sermon, I end up asking my husband, “Dan, do you think Farm King is hiring? They’ve got some really cool stuff there. Or maybe Subway? I think I could make sandwiches for the rest of my life.”
While running on the treadmill, Sara Bareilles speaks to me through my earbuds telling me that she wants to see me be brave, with what I want to say, and to just let the words fall out….but I don’t feel brave. In fact, I don’t believe in myself much. But I do believe in the journey. As difficult as it is, there is something sacred about the journey.
The acclaimed poet William Stafford likened this writer’s journey to following a golden thread. Stafford “believes that whenever you set a detail down in language, it becomes the end of a thread…and every detail—the sound of the lawn mower, the memory of your father’s hands, a crack you once heard in lake ice, the jogger hurtling herself past your window—will lead you to amazing riches.” The stance for the writer to take, then, is one of being “neutral, ready, susceptible to now. Only the golden thread knows where it is going, and the role for the writer is one of following, not imposing.”
So hear I am, once again, following the Christmas narrative to see where it leads me and my community, who I pray will hear some Good News as a result of this strenuous, yet sacred journey.
 From Robert Bly’s introduction to Stafford’s selected poems
The Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott has been an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister for over fifteen years. After receiving her Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary she served the church in a variety of positions, most recently as the pastor of Cameron Presbyterian Church in Cameron, NC. In 2008 she completed her Doctor of Ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary. She began serving Monmouth College as Chaplain in January of 2011. Teri blogs regularly at Something to Say and recently published an article with The Christian Century, “Wilderness venture: Toward a more honest sermon.” Teri’s essay, “Worn In,” will be featured in the forthcoming RevGals book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, & the Healing Power of Humor.
Teri and her husband, Dan, have two towheaded, energetic young children, Isaac and Ella, whom they enjoy immensely and one skittish German-Shepherd mix named Percy.
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